MOLINE, IL – The odds were long that the Quad City Mallards would be able to pull off an upset of the Missouri Mavericks in their first round ECHL playoff matchup. The Mavericks are the top team in the league and the Mallards were without Tanner Eberle and Zach Pochiro due to injuries. The odds got longer after they lost the first three games of the series. They got even longer with leading playoff scorer Matt Carey out of the lineup for game four after sustaining an upper body injury. The Mallards fought against these odds until the end but were eliminated from the playoffs in game four by a score of 4-1.
Game four was unlike the others in that it was really decided in the first two periods. Through two periods, the Mavericks had 19 shots versus 17 shots for the Mallards. The difference was that three of the Mavericks’ shots found the net. The Mallards had a number of great scoring chances themselves but were unable to get any past Josh Robinson.
Two of the Mavericks’ goals came on the power play. The first was by Bryce Aneloski at 7:35 of the first period. The other was by Rocco Carzo early in the third period. In between, they got an even strength goal from Chris Owens. That one came near the halfway point of the second period.
The Mallards came out hard to start the third period and finally got a goal. Sam Warning got a rebound on a shot by Olivier Archambault and shot the puck from close range. It barely trickled past Robinson into the net. Now trailing 3-1, the Mallards had some good pressure for a few minutes to try to get back in the game. That ended when a turnover led to the Mavericks’ fourth goal with 8:06 to play. This goal was scored by Carter Verhaeghe.
With the game all but decided some of the trash talk that had been going on all series finally boiled over, resulting in several penalties. Kevin Gibson was called for roughing with 5:47 to play. Less than a minute after that, there was an incident that resulted in 20 minutes of penalties being handed out. Jesse Graham and Sam Warning got matching four-minute double minor penalties for roughing. Jordan Knackstedt was also given a two minute penalty for roughing. Brady Brassart got a 10 minute misconduct for unsportsmanlike conduct. Finally, with 2:45 to play, Archambault was also called for roughing.
It was an appropriate, if not happy, ending to Darren McMillan’s career. True to form, he was not involved in any of the trash talk or penalties near the end of the game, or all series for that matter. When the game ended, he led the team out to shake hands with the Mavericks players. His teammates put him in the center of the salute at center ice and he was given honorary first star of the game.
So how did this series result in a sweep? It’s strange to say it in a sweep, but overall the Mallards’ offense and defense didn’t play that badly. With the exception of the third period of game three, the Mallards were able to hold their own in terms of creating scoring chances. There were some defensive breakdowns but that will happen against a team as talented as the Mavericks.
The main difference was goaltending. It’s not like the Mallards’ goalies played badly. Mallards’ goalie Brody Hoffman allowed a couple soft goals at critical points in games one and three. Otherwise, he was excellent. He made a flurry of saves during a Mavericks’ power play in the second period of game three that literally brought the crowd to its’ feet. In game four PJ Musico made a spectacular glove save to prevent what would have been another power play goal for the Mavericks.
As good as they were, Robinson was better. Robinson came up big when he needed to, and had several spectacular saves throughout the series. He ended up stopping 84 of 90 shots in the three games he played. Parker Milner may have been even better in game two when he stopped 28 of 29 shots.
Goaltending aside, the Mallards’ scoring problems didn’t just start during this series. Finishing scoring chances was a problem all season for them. They finished 19th in goals scored in the ECHL.
It also did not help that Eberle and Pochiro were out with injuries. They both had provided a nice spark to the offense down the stretch when the Mallards had to play well just to make the playoffs.
As is usually the case, there will be a number of changes in store for the Mallards this offseason. They will have to look at how to address some of these shortcomings in addition to finding someone to replace McMillan, their team captain and leader.